Champs face relegation battle!

Matthew Ruth (Kilkenny) keeps his eye on the sliotar as Conor O'Brien (Tipperary) closes in during the NHL clash in Semple Stadium.  (Photo: Eoin Hennessy)
The Kilkenny approach in the last game in the preliminaries of the Allianz National Hurling league is simple - just let rip.

The Kilkenny approach in the last game in the preliminaries of the Allianz National Hurling league is simple - just let rip.

The Cats, who face Clare at Nowlan Park on Sunday (2pm), are in the relegation zone and there is no hope of avoiding it.

However, Clare have everything to fight for, because they could still jump clear, depending on the outcome of the clash between Dublin and Galway, the teams immediately above them in the table. A win for Galway would suit Davy Fitzgerald’s men.

The results in ‘head to head’ clashes means Kilkenny cannot avoid a relegation tie because they were beaten by the teams above them, Dublin and Galway. So even if the Noresiders get to four points that might bring them level with either Dublin or Galway, it would make no difference.

The story is different for Clare. They beat Dublin, so if they can topple the defending League champions they can give themselves a fighting chance in the battle against the drop. They need a helping hand from Galway, however.

Sunday will be a most interesting day, especially in relation to the relegation issue in Division 1A.

Kilkenny, the double champions in 2014, and winners of the League during the past three seasons, are in new territory. Manager Brian Cody suggested in the post match interview in Thurles on Sunday that he wouldn’t be asking the Ballyhale Shamrocks players to make themselves available for the Clare game so soon after the All-Ireland club final.

Door open

However, he left the door open just in case any of the players - T.J. Reid, Joey Holden, Colin and Michael Fennelly, Richie Reid and maybe even Henry Shefflin - might want to volunteer. Colin Fennelly is one at least who might be interested.

“The Shamrocks players would be back for the match the following weekend and we will see where we are then,” was the way Mr Cody put the reply to the ‘will they, won’t they’ question about the Shamrocks contingent.

“We will keep going. Clare is an important game. There is no excuse in terms of missing players or anything like that.

“The player who were there (in Thurles) are all part of the panel. We played well for half of the game, but not the rest.”

Mr Cody said he would not criticise the team or group in any way.

“We were very, very good in the first half in lots of ways,” he insisted. “We created good chances. We got good chances for goals in the second half.

“If we weren’t creating we would have a bigger problem. We are where we are. It is as it is, and that is it.

“Everyone is fighting for a place on the panel and team. An awful lot of them stood up manfully to the challenge against Tipp, who are challengers for everything every year.”

He reminded that in the first half Kilkenny scored an early goal, but Tipp replied quickly. They took over then, but Kilkenny got back into the game.

“They got a run of scores before half time that were important,” he suggested. “There was a lull in the scoring in the second half for about 15 minutes or so, and we had a couple of chances of goals. We didn’t take them.”

He felt Tipp won a lot of the 50/50 contests.

“Last Sunday we did well and were competitive,” he continued. “I was disappointed the way we played against Dublin. Today we were decent in the first half, but we would be disappointed with our display in the second half.

“We always say we want to win the League. We do the best we possibly can in the League. We are doing the same this year.

“We had chances early in the second half and we didn’t take them. Those things matter. We didn’t finish some good moves. The game went away from us then. Tipp were strong.”

Tipperary manager, Eamon O’Shea, was pleased his side qualified for the knock-out stages, but he didn’t make much of it.

“That will do me for now. We got a win which is very good,” was his assessment.

“I keep saying it about the League. It is a game in March. Take it for what it is. We won. Sometimes we lose. It has no bearing on what is to come in any month following this. Just be cautious.

“For us this win is important in that we kept on performing and we tried to improve. We kept our level of performance over the last two or three games. That was the most important aspect of the game for us.

“The opposition didn’t really faze me. The players have been working hard during games. You are hopeful your team has a consistency of performance. That is all you can look for.

“The priority is that we keep on improving; we keep trying to do better. We are still evolving as a team. We had some new players in today.

“The older lads were trying hard too. The League is not a priority. We will take the next game against Cork as it is, and do our best to try and win.”